Thursday, 14 April 2011


This is a truly spectacular tree seen in spring when the branches are bare of leaves but full of waxy red flowers, the young buds of which, like those of the kachnar tree are edible. There is a tree near our house which has an eagle’s nest perched safely in a fork of the tree and it can be clearly seen as there are, as yet no leaves. It is one of the tallest trees on the Indian subcontinent and is used in traditional medicine for a plethora of purposes, including as an aphrodisiac.
  It is also known as the Indian Kapok tree as it has fine silky kapok like fibres growing around its seeds. These are said to be inferior to kapok, which comes from Ceiba pentandra but nonetheless are used for stuffing and to put on burns to prevent blistering and help prevent scarring. The name Bombax means silk worm and malabarica = from Malabar. The tree is a member of the Bombacaceae family of plants, so is related to the durian and the baobab tree..
  The tree also yields a gum which is sometimes used as a substitute for gum tragacanth and which is used in bookbinding, cosmetics and to thicken ice cream and medicine. It is said to be an aphrodisiac when taken with gur and cow’s milk. The gum is known as Mochras in India. It is said to have astringent properties and be good for diarrhea and dysentery, for female problems including irregular periods, to ease the pain of piles and to purify the blood among other remedies.
  The young one or two year old roots are thought to be useful as a sex tonic and aphrodisiac. They are called Semul (the local name of the tree) Musli and like other Muslis such as Safed Musli, they are used to stimulate the male libido. In some area the local healers or hakims prefer to gather the roots on Mondays, but why this should be so is not apparent. In traditional medicine in Myanmar the roots are given to cure impotency and to increase the sperm count. The bark of the tree is thought (in Myanmar) to help in cases of heart disease and spermatorrhoea. In India the bark is given with gur and milk for the same purposes.
  The flowers are given with honey to stop internal bleeding, and are fried as a vegetable in ghee. Flowers are boiled slowly overnight and given with mustard seeds to reduce the size of enlarged spleens. The juice of the fresh bark is supposed to stop diarrhoea. The fruit, which can be seen under the flower, is also used as an aphrodisiac, and as an expectorant. The bark is also used for wound healing, and can be made into a paste for skin problems, with the leaves also used for these. The flowers are also said to be good for the skin and complexion, and for piles. Young fruit is used for chronic inflammation associated with arthritis and rheumatism, and for bladder and kidney problems as well as to treat gonorrhea and chronic cystitis.
  The wood of the tree is used to make matchsticks, coffins and crates and is useful in water, so well-linings and dugout canoes are made from the tree. The bark is used in rope-making.
  Modern medical research has shown that extracts from the stem of the tree contain lupeol which has antiangiogenic¹ properties in vitro, and it also has potent hypotensive activity, so can be extremely useful. However the research is still in its early stages. It also contains the flavanol shamimicin which is also under investigation.
Antiangogenic agents inhibit the growth of new blood cells. Such growths play crucial roles in many diseases including some that cause blindness arthritis and cancer. They are found naturally in certain plants and can be manufactured in labs.


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